Leadership, Advice, Diversity & Inclusion

Singtel Through the Seasons - Teo Soh Yen

Published 09 Mar 2020 by Sandra Au

As the driving force behind Singtel’s Group Enterprise Offshore and Outsource Delivery Center in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and Pune, India, Soh Yen seems like a force of nature: building projects entirely from scratch and taking care of every aspect, from sourcing for buildings, to managing overseas offices with hundreds of staff.

In another life, it’s hard to imagine Global Delivery Centre Management and Transformation Director Teo Soh Yen being your friendly neighbourhood property agent.

“It’s true! I’m quite interested in Singapore’s property market,” she admits laughingly. “And I’m confident I’ll be very successful at what I do.”

During her time at the Singtel Global Delivery, she details how she wrestled with the challenge of delivering the project within the tight timeline of nine months, working at breakneck speed to set up the what would then be Singtel Group Enterprise’s first Offshore Delivery Center, located in Kuala Lumpur – a groundbreaking undertaking which would ultimately house more than 500 full-time employees.

People Management

A great stamp of Soh Yen’s enduring work ethic is what she fondly calls her “daily 4.00 pm lockdown”. She dedicates the hour to helping her team untangle thorny issues and helping them expedite and push forward with work. Her clout with multiple stakeholders often enables them to break impasses. Soh Yen wryly likens their daily 4.00 pm 'lockdowns’ to adopting the distinct style of group therapy sessions, where every member of the team gets together to commiserate but to also take heart in knowing that they’re all in this together (à la Alcoholics Anonymous, but sans alcohol).

Soh Yen’s knack for esprit de corps is also exemplified in how she manages day-to-day work with an international team with the Offshore Centers in both Malaysia and India. As part of Singtel’s exploration for outsourcing and automation opportunities, Soh Yen also supported the set-up of the NCSIT – NCS Application and Development center in Pune, India. She notes that setting up the Outsource Delivery Centre was not an easy one to deliver, with labour movement sensitivities making the management of staff morale more important than ever. The project team actively worked with both HR and line directors to reskill and redeploy individuals whose roles were impacted.

The set up also required the intimate involvement and contributions of different parties, which was tested when the team ran into teething problems after rolling out some of the Statement Of Works, citing problems with performance and user experience. Upon further thought, she notes that resolving differences requires a shift in mindset from team members at both ends. Hence, she sought to close the gaps in the expectations of performance and response time and ensured that the staff performed quality parallel runs at expected service level to turn around the quality of transactions and operations. Her dedication, tenacity and uncanny ability to rally people around her were all warmly recognised by her team and Singtel management.

Singtel Through the Seasons

Through the seasons, Soh Yen has found a home in Singtel to grow and challenge herself. Playing on the stereotype of an engineering graduate, she self-deprecatingly remarks how she had her previous and current supervisors William Woo, Francis Fong and Alan Lam to thank for presenting her with numerous instances to polish up her emotional quotient (EQ) through the wealth of opportunities she was exposed to.

“In the course of work, I learnt to create business cases, negotiate commercial contracts and look into optimising end-to-end process to make operations leaner. I’ve also picked up new and creative ways of looking at different situations, courtesy of my younger colleagues,” she affirms.

Remote working and opportunities for working mothers

Soh Yen is no stranger to the jet-setting lifestyle. Previously based in an American multinational company for a decade, travelling to set up Network Data Centres in the likes of Vietnam, Japan and Korea were all part of her bread and butter.

She took the travelling with relish, proclaiming “I absolutely loved my life. I had minimal commitments and responsibilities and enjoyed the excitement.”

It was with her strong record of setting up offshore projects that led her to being scouted by Singtel. She reveals how she was initially asked to relocate to Kuala Lumpur in 2013 for a couple of years to oversee the setting up and running of the Offshore Centre. With her then-seven-year-old son just about to enter primary school, it was a difficult decision to make.

She opines “being a working mother, I believe most will agree that it is a challenge to strike a balance between family and work. It takes a village to raise a child! Mothers with young families tend to miss out on overseas opportunities and prospects due to personal priorities.”

Fortunately, with Singtel’s progressive and inclusive practices, Soh Yen was able to oversee the set-up of the Delivery Centres via remote conferences and occasional business trips.

“I am glad to have the opportunity to leverage on technology to demonstrate that I still deliver with aplomb. With the rise of virtual conferences and remote teams, I am confident it will free up opportunities for women to be equally competent to occupy senior, global roles without the burden of extensive travelling or relocation.”

What makes a function or discipline attractive to women

Still, Soh Yen acknowledges that working in a delivery function makes her the minority, being the only female director in her business unit.  Rather than hastening to preliminary conclusions, she poses an interesting counterargument – Are certain functions or disciplines more attractive to women than others? Having majored in engineering during her undergraduate days, she is not unfamiliar to being in an environment with more men than women.

Soh Yen is an individual that can hold her own, no questions asked.

“Gender colours the way you are perceived, that’s for certain,” she states.

She credits having a change mindset and a supportive work culture that provides equal opportunities to all and rewards performance and results. Indeed, the higher than average female to male ratio in Singtel’s Management Committee is a clear testament to this.    

“All in all, you must find the courage to say what is right for the company,” Soh Yen implores. “It is a prized skill to be able to relay difficult news, but to also have a sharpened sense of situational awareness and the ability to provide a solution to the issue.”

This article is part of Singtel’s 2020 International Women’s Day series celebrating the achievements of Singtel’s female leaders.

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